On April 18, about 150 area residents enjoyed locally grown produce and other fresh fare at the third annual Diamonds for Kale, a gala fundraiser designed to draw support for Grow It Green Morristown, a six-year-old organization dedicated to building community through collaborative projects centered around food, education and shared outdoor spaces.

Held at the historic Kellogg Club in Morristown, the event featured a range of creative cuisine prepared by Ome Caterers in Whippany that incorporated vegetables and herbs from the Grow It Green farm and served as a showcase for all that’s possible when a community works together to be healthy and vibrant.
“Diamonds for Kale represents an opportunity to bring together all those who supported us throughout the years and raise funds to continue our work,” said Grow It Green Executive Director Abby Gallo of the organization’s initiatives, which include operation of its one-acre Morristown-based Urban Farm and educational center on Lafayette Street and community garden on Early Street. “It’s an intimate event held at a historic home in downtown Morristown and it’s so inspiring to see how much people truly care about the work we do.”

Fresh and local fare

At Grow It Green’s Urban Farm, Gallo said “we grow a broad range of produce to demonstrate to the community what’s possible.” The event’s colorful menu this year reflects the farm’s diverse crops. “For example, our Urban Farm provided the eggs for the mini croque monsieur appetizers, while the mini shrimp ceviches showcased our fresh chives and our chicken arepas made with sofrito spices and masarepa corn cakes featured parsley also sourced from the farm.”

According to Gallo, the event’s signature cilantro lime mojito cocktails were made with cilantro from Grow It Green garden space, while one of the gala’s three craft beer selections was hand-brewed by Grow It Green Farmer Shaun Ananko using hops cultivated on Grow It Green property.

As part of its mission, Grow It Green also sourced and showcased ingredients grown by other local providers — the gala’s freshly-squeezed parsnip juice, selection of crunchy crudité, and wild mushroom tartare appetizers respectively featured parsnips, cauliflower, and kale from Mendham’s Ralston Farm, while Long Valley’s Valley Shepherd Creamery provided a variety of handmade artisanal cheeses. “We love to promote exceptional local growers,” Gallo said.

The event also included a silent auction featuring over 40 items related to food, health and wellness, the arts, or local businesses and recognized Morris School District-based teacher Jennifer Ford, who was honored as Grow It Green’s ‘Teacher of the Year’ based on her proactive efforts to bring farm-based education to the classroom and integrate it into the curriculum.

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Kale and more

Among Grow It Green’s major initiatives, its Urban Farm, located at the Morris School District’s Lafayette Learning Center, represents New Jersey’s largest school garden and provides hands-on educational opportunities to the district’s over 5,000 school children as well as area college students and local community members.

Adult instruction on the unique teaching farm this year also includes a monthly series of ‘Be Your Own Farmer’ educational classes covering such topics as gardening, composting, nutrition, plant science, livestock, and growing food.

Gallo said, “roughly 90 percent of what’s grown at the Urban Farm is planted by students and 70 percent of it — some 1.7 tons of produce in 2014 — is donated to partnering charities such as the Interfaith Food Pantry, Community Soup Kitchen, and Table of Hope as well as to the Morristown High School cafeteria. The remaining 30 percent is sold through our dedicated Farm Stand Days at the farm; customers can pick it themselves at cost.” Farm Stand Days take place every Saturday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. from June 20 to October 24, and 3 to 6 p.m. every Thursday afternoon beginning July 16.

Launched in 2009 on the site of a former junkyard that was remediated, Grow It Green’s 43-plot ‘Early Street Community Garden’ stands as yet another testament to the strength of partnership, garnering so much community support that it will be undergoing a major expansion to 92 plots this year thanks to funding raised through the organization’s capital campaign.

A former public relations professional, Gallo said that a pro bono project she worked on for New York’s ‘Just Food’ organization years ago sparked her lasting interest in sustainability.

“Growing up in Maine, I realized that not everyone had the same access to and care for the environment as had been instilled in me and I wanted to share that with my local community,” the current Morristown resident said. “The money we raise for Grow It Green through our Diamonds for Kale event and other general fundraising activities will go towards providing equal access to fresh, local food and educating the community on where their food comes from. We hope to continue promoting healthy eating habits and to reaching even more students and community members in the future.”

“The educational aspect of the Urban Farm is extraordinary and we’re excited about the way it brings together the entire community, from kids to volunteers,” said Morristown residents Kristin Ace and husband Jeff Braemer. “A few years ago, our daughter Miranda and her girl scout troop painted and donated a chicken coop to Grow It Green, which helped make them feel that much more invested and part of the initiative,” Ace said. “Grow it Green truly walks the talk and we hope to see them move into the community even more profoundly in the future.”

“Diamonds for Kale brings everyone together, from our board members and volunteers to residents who just want to see Morristown continue to thrive,” Gallo said. “We hope to keep growing as an organization, both in terms of our staff as well as in our impact on the community.”

Grow It Green’s main offices are located at 14 Maple Avenue in Morristown and can be reached at tel. 973-206-4177 or visit www.growitgreenmorristown.org.

Visit Grow It Green’s Urban Farm at 31 Hazel Street or its Early Street Community Garden at 17 Early Street.